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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Graduate market may be approaching saturation for some jobs
New graduates tend to earn less if they work in jobs in competition with lots of other graduates, while the graduate market may be approaching saturation point for some types of jobs. This may be an increasingly important factor in young people’s decision to leave education early. Some 23 per cent of young people who say they would like to stay in education after the compulsory leaving age have left by the age of 17. For those early leavers who subsequently find themselves without work, poor GCSE results, lack of parental encouragement and economic disadvantage are the main factors affecting their decision. These are the findings of research papers presented by Dr Malcolm Brynin, of the University of Essex, and Professor John Bynner, of the Institute of Education, London, at a seminar organized by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Women still gain a lot from having a degree, but men find themselves in an increasingly competitive graduate labour market, which has reduced their average earnings, according to Dr Brynin’s research. New graduates also do better than those who have been working for some time. Dr Brynin said:
Having a degree pays, but not as much if you do a job where most other people have degrees.
Since 1991, there has also been a growing proportion of people in jobs that do not require the qualification held by individual employees. And international research suggests that nearly twice as many British workers see themselves as overqualified compared with their colleagues in Norway, Germany and Italy.
Dr Brynin continued:
This means that if we want to encourage young people to remain in education past the age of 16, we need to help them to adapt to labour-market needs.
The incentives have to be right. There are two problems we need to address: the first is the incentive to stay in education, while the second is tackling the background factors that encourage people to stay or leave.
The incentive to remain in education depends on the qualifications achieved or likely to be achieved, the costs of continuing in education and assessment of what type of jobs particular qualifications are expected to buy in the job market. The biggest factor is GCSE results. Failure to achieve five A*-C passes at GCSE reduces the average 65 per cent who choose to stay in education at 16 to 43 per cent, while success raises it to 88 per cent. Examination performance is itself partly determined by attitudes to education and poverty, but it is a major factor in its own right.
Professor Bynner’s research shows that there have been big changes in school-leaving trends since 1970, when two-thirds of young people were still leaving full-time education or training at the minimum age. By 1986, that figure had dropped to just over half and by 1990 to 30 per cent, where it has remained. Professor Bynner notes that not all early leavers are poorly qualified.
Not all young people who leave school at the minimum age are necessarily going to have an impoverished occupational career. Those with O levels or GCSEs will generally have got their foot on the occupational ladder – and their contemporaries who stay in higher education are actually likely to take a long time to catch up.
But those with no GCSEs or few passes risked later unemployment and social exclusion. And the odds of somebody falling into this group were greatly increased by several factors. Those early leavers born with a low birth weight were 2.5 times more likely to end up out of education, employment or training for more than six months in the period from 16-18, those whose parents did not read to them as a child were 1.7 times more likely and those in receipt of free school meals, 1.9 times more likely.
Basic skills were also a key factor:
At the heart of poor achievement at school is the failure to acquire the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. Early leavers are found at twice the level among adults with poor basic skills compared with those whose skills are average or good – 80 per cent compared with 40 per cent.
Professor Bynner argues that policies to address these issues need to start early:
For the government to develop policies that will effectively counter the tendency for 30 per cent to leave school early – especially without qualifications – cradle-to-grave attention must be given to meeting individual developmental needs. Programmes like Sure Start and the New Deal are on the right track, but their resources may not be enough to bring about the cultural shift we need to see and to overcome years of inter-generational disadvantage.